Telling the Story of a Nation

The American Pioneer

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The 8-cent stamp featuring Thomas Benton's mural was issued May 8, 1971.

While art on stamps highlights the American family and explores related themes, it also celebrates the pioneers and settlers who pushed this nation westward. Since the arrival of Europeans to the North American continent, frontiersmen have left the comforts of the established eastern cities and moved to the unsettled west. Their migration represented the articulation and fulfillment of America’s feelings of manifest destiny. American artists have depicted the ruggedness and bravery of these individuals through a wide array of mediums, and this art has been used on postage stamps to honor these pioneers and their desire for expansion.

In 1971, the Post Office Department issued a stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of Missouri’s statehood. The stamp shows an image from a mural at the Truman Library completed by Thomas Hart Benton. This was appropriate for a stamp celebrating Missouri as both Truman and Benton hailed from the state. Known as “Independence and the Opening of the West,” the overall intent of the mural is to show the beginnings of Independence, Missouri. It depicts a wide variety of trappers, hunters, and settlers along with a group of painted Pawnee Indians who meet the new comers. The mural also gives the viewer a look at blacksmiths, forts, and many of the trails of the west such as the Oregon Trail.

The image on the stamp portrays several pioneers and a Pawnee Indian. Benton placed these subjects in a central position in his mural, thereby identifying them as important. The Post Office Department, by selecting this portion of the painting, placed significance on the settlers who pushed America westward.